What’s gone wrong with G-Cloud?
G-Cloud was initiated by the UK government in June 2012 to provide an online marketplace for public sector organisations to procure commodity, Cloud-based IT services, without the need to conduct lengthy OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) tendering processes. As a secondary aim, the government wanted to open up the public sector to SMEs and to increase the proportion of IT services provided to public sector organisations by smaller companies, moving away from big monolithic contracts with the major global service providers.
Since then, the G-Cloud marketplace has grown to now offer over 13,000 services from around 1,200 suppliers, and has generated total sales of over £217 million, 53% of which were provided by SMEs (as reported by gov.uk). As a further driver, in February 2014, the Cabinet Office issued a ‘Cloud first’ policy, requiring public sector organisations to consider Cloud based services as the primary option to meet their IT requirements.
Now, looking at the above stats, you might decide that the G-Cloud programme has been a great success, but is that really the case? Could it have been a lot better? Does it meet the needs of all areas of the public sector? Will it continue to expand?
Looking below the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that the programme is not as successful as it could be and there are significant concerns (worrying clouds) about its future development. A trend seen in recent independent surveys has revealed that roughly, only 10% of public sector organisations are using G‑Cloud, the majority being in central government, and 76% of the surveyed organisations don’t really understand the framework and how it is supposed to work. So clearly there is a strong need for greater promotion and education about G-Cloud outside central government.
Similarly, on the supplier side, 80% of the companies offering services on the G-Cloud marketplace (CloudStore) have not achieved any sales through this framework. This suggests that a lot of public sector organisations have continued to work with their long-term suppliers and are just using the G-Cloud framework as an easy way to contract for their services, rather than using the CloudStore to evaluate competing service offerings.
A recent worrying factor has been the government’s decision to merge G-Cloud in to its broader Digital Marketplace. This is creating confusion amongst buyers, adding to the overall lack of understanding of the programme, and has created a branding issue - does G-Cloud continue as a distinct entity, or is it now just a component of a broader concept? Improved communications are required by the government to clearly articulate what the Digital Marketplace comprises and how it links with other components of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Crown Commercial Service.
This change has also lead to G‑Cloud no longer having a distinct identity, with a recognised figurehead, dedicated staffing and its own series of meetings, events and communications for buyer and supplier organisations further diminishing the much needed promotion of the G-Cloud programme.
So what could be done to improve G-Cloud to benefit both buyers and suppliers? Listed below are a number of actions that I believe should be taken to help the service reach its full potential:
- A review should be conducted to assess whether G-Cloud meets the needs of public sector organisations outside central government, as well as revisions made to the programme where necessary. This review should include an appraisal of the standard G-Cloud contract to make it ‘fit for purpose’; some buyers cite a lack of robustness and material differences from their other, non G‑Cloud contracts as a reason for not currently using the G-Cloud framework.
- Promotional campaigns should be initiated in each area of the public sector (local government, emergency services, NHS, governmental agencies, etc.), to increase the level of understanding and appreciation of the benefits of the programme, and of the CloudStore marketplace. This could be further enhanced by appointing G-Cloud ‘champions’ in each area, who will continue the promotional and education activities, and act as a source of expert advice to buyers.
- The need to convince some buyers that their authority’s requirements are not so complex or unique that they cannot be met by a G-Cloud type commodity service, a common misconception thought by many authorities.
- Coupled with the promotion of G-Cloud there needs to be greater education within public sector organisations on the benefits of Cloud based services in general, using examples such as Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council, whose IT infrastructure is entirely Cloud-based.
- The CloudStore search functionality needs to be substantially enhanced. The current search capabilities are far too general and subsequently return too many search results to be useful. For example, a search on ‘SIAM’ returns over 9,000 results, with limited secondary search capability to narrow down this list, presenting buyers with the task of manually reviewing a long list of possible services. An ability to iteratively refine the search results would significantly improve the usability of the CloudStore.
- Increased vetting of suppliers’ G‑Cloud service offerings is required. Some suppliers (the major global service providers being prime culprits) have flooded the CloudStore with multiple versions of what is essentially the same service. This significantly increases the number of search results returned to buyers, increasing confusion and reducing the value of G-Cloud.
- The maximum contract duration of two years for G-Cloud services should be relaxed to provide greater flexibility, and potentially to reduce prices where suppliers are able to spread their implementation costs over a longer period.
- Many authorities currently lack the ability to adequately identify and document their service requirements, so as to allow them to effectively utilise an online marketplace such as CloudStore. Whilst this skills gap can be fulfilled by an independent third party organisation, it is not widely recognised that such services can also be acquired through the G-Cloud framework, and do not require a lengthy open procurement exercise. Other similar ‘Cloud support services’ are also available, but this not widely recognised; increased promotion of the SCS (Specialist Cloud Services) section of CloudStore is needed.
- The G-Cloud functionality needs to be extended to include electronic ordering and payments. At present, having selected a CloudStore service, buying organisations need to step outside the facility to make contact with the chosen supplier and place an order.
- Greater control is needed over the pricing of services offered under G-Cloud in order to provide buyers with the information they require to be confident of the total cost of that service. Whereas initially there was a requirement to provide a full service cost for each CloudStore offering, this has been relaxed more recently with many services now being offered on a ‘per day’ basis; so, for example, for the implementation of a SIAM (Service Integration and Management) service, the buyer has no idea from the CloudStore entries how many days will be required and thus the total cost.
If these actions can be taken over the next six months, then G-Cloud (or whatever the Cabinet Office decides to call it), can progress in a positive way to the benefit of both buyer organisations and suppliers. Without change usage of G-Cloud will not continue to grow and expand in to all areas of the public sector, remaining primarily in central government, and frequently being used as a quicker and easier way to contract with existing suppliers rather than for open, competitive procurement.
Quantum Plus is an approved G-Cloud supplier.